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Peter. 'A is for Anzac'; in Journal of the Australian War Memorial. AWM,
Canberra. Apr 1990, p76-77.
A is for Anzac
In November 1917 AIF orders authorized the wearing of a small badge
in the form of the letter 'A' on unit colour patches to denote that the wearer
had taken part in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. It was later prescribed that the
badge would be a brass letter 3/4-inch high. A further order, in January 1918,
extended the eligibility to service 'on the islands of Lemnos, Imbros, and Tenedos,
on the transports or hospital ships at or off Gallipoli or these islands or in
the AIF line of communications units from Egypt.' It is interesting to note that
this final addition embraced the work of the Australian Army Nursing Service so
that both men and women were acknowledged as 'Anzacs'.1
Shortly before the AIF embarked for Gallipoli cloth colour patches on the sleeves
of jackets were adopted as the means of identifying units. The system was retained
by the Australian army after the war and remained in use during the second world
war. Anzac veterans who served in uniform in the second world war were again able
to wear the Anzac 'A'.2
The Anzac badge has a hazy origin. Generals Gellibrand, Monash and Birdwood were
among those variously given credit for its introduction. It seems most likely
that the badge was the culmination of several ideas proposed in early 1916 to
recognize the Australian veterans of Anzac. General Monash recorded one expression
of such an idea when he paraded his brigade on the celebration of the first Anzac
Day in 1916: 'Every man who had served on Gallipoli wore a blue ribbon on the
right breast, and every man who, in addition, had taken part in the historic landing
on 25 April 1915, wore a red ribbon also. Alas how few of us are left who were
entitled to wear both'. 3
Birdwood Ñ himself a central figure on Anzac Ñ evidently favoured the idea of
some permanent distinction to be worn by Anzac veterans. In August 1916 he told
the five Australian divisions that he had no objection to them adopting an 'A'
badge for their colour patches. There was a mixed reception to the suggestion.
Those divisions containing most Anzacs (the 1st and 2nd) favoured the idea while
the commanders of the 4th and 5th were initially opposed to it It was left to
each division to make its own arrangements for the provision and adoption of the
badge. By November 1916 Monash (commanding the 3rd Division) was able to report:
'All who have a right to be called "Anzacs" among us are now wearing a metal "A"
on the colour patches on the sleeves'. 4
In early 1917 convalescent Anzacs began to arrive in Australia wearing the Anzac
'A' and the status of the badge, not previously seen in Australia, was queried.
Finally, deciding that formal adoption was necessary, AIF Order No. 937 (November
1917) authorized the badge for the whole force and ordered that it be supplied
by ordnance instead of regimental funds. Subsequent orders made the wearing of
the badge compulsory and clarified the eligibility rules.
There had been some resentment towards the adoption of the badge, particularly
in the early years. Survivors of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm in 1916 had, quite
reasonably, felt that their experiences were comparable to those of the Anzacs.
Their ordeal was infinitely worse than that of men who served in 1915 on Lemnos,
Imbros, Tenedos and the lines of communications units.
However the Anzac 'A' soon gained respect The heavy casualty lists of 1916 and
1917 further reduced the numbers of the Anzac veterans remaining in the AIF. By
1918 it was evidently acknowledged that the remaining veterans had done more than
their share of fighting and now occupied a very special place within the force.
Lieutenant H.R Williams of the 56th Battalion responded to the sight of Anzac
badges following one of the battles in the 1918 August advance:
I looked at some of the Australian dead. Each of one group
of three wore the brass A on their red-and-black colour
patches which denoted that the wearers had served at
Anzac on Gallipoli. We covered with their waterproof
sheets these three men of the peerless 1st Australian
Division, and went on our way with bitter hearts. 5
The Memorial's heraldry collection contains several uniforms bearing the Anzac
'A'. In addition it has a number of loose patches bearing the badge. These badges
were worn and later preserved with pride before finally becoming part of the Memorial's
PETER BURNESS Military Heraldry
1. Australian Infantry Forces Nos 937 (6 Nov. 1917),
994 (30 Nov. 1917), 1012 (11 Dec. 1917), 1084 (25 Jan. 1918).
2. Australian Military Forces General Routine Orders,
No. 0815 (17 Dec. 1943).
3. F.M. Cutlack (ed.), War letters of General Monash,
Sydney, 1934, p. 112.
4. Ibid., p. 148.
5. H.R Williams, The gallant company, Sydney,1933,
Examples of AIF colour patches including one (bottom right) with an embroidered
Anzac A' The others bear the brass letter 'A' authorized in November 1917.
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